Leyland: Villarreal compares to Alburquerque

Leyland: Villarreal compares to Alburquerque

Leyland: Villarreal compares to Alburquerque
DETROIT -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland went in a very interesting direction to describe Brayan Villarreal's potential in this year's Detroit bullpen.

He brought up Al Alburquerque.

"Right now, today, he'd probably fit right in [like] last year's Alburquerque," Leyland said after Villarreal's 2 1/3 perfect innings Saturday. "Maybe [pitching] a little bit earlier, but that type of thing. That would be great for us. I mean, that's a great arm, obviously."

When Alburquerque was on last year, his arm was tremendous, his slider devastating. And when the Tigers needed a big strikeout before getting to Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde for the eighth and ninth innings, Alburquerque was the guy.

Villarreal is a different type of a pitcher. He's a power arm, for sure, and his fastball cranked up to 98 mph on the Comerica Park radar gun Saturday. But Villarreal is throwing his slider less often, including just three times among his 23 pitches Saturday.

The big difference for Villarreal in his last two outings has been fastball command. He has pounded the strike zone with it, and hitters have struggled to catch up. Correspondingly, Villarreal has struck out seven of the 15 batters he has faced since the Tigers recalled him on Thursday, compared with just one of the seven hitters he faced in April.

When Villarreal lost a game at Yankee Stadium on two walks, a wild pitch and a passed ball, Leyland said he needed to relax and let his talent come out. The longer relief outings seem to have helped. Now they have to try to keep it that way.

"That would really be a big help to us," Leyland said. "That gives you another weapon in the bullpen in certain spots."